Like most of us, I didn't enjoy going into the basement alone as a kid. Basements are dark and quiet, two things that repel children. There weren't specific fears associated with my childhood basement (other than my brother Dave who would sometimes jump out from a dark corner wearing a gorilla mask). It was more so the feeling that anything was possible there--hungry spiders, monsters, and ghosts.
Friday afternoon I ventured into the basement against my will to find a couple of things. The basement is still an uncomfortable place for me, but for completely grownup reasons. My basement is a museum of everything that is wrong with me. It is filled with boxes of things I never organized, things I should have thrown away, and enough Happy Meal toys to make a person truly, mournfully sad. The boxes were packed by our movers, a crew of college-age kids doing summer work, and contain such random collections of items that searching through them feels like a bout of schizophrenia: computer cords with a box of checks with a stuffed animal and an old dress shoe. I like to pretend that it's all the movers' fault, but truthfully, they can only account for 42.6% of the blame.
Every box is a time machine, taking me somewhere else in the past, and robbing me of time in the present. Sometimes it's a pleasant trip, like when I found the letter Ryan read to me at my college graduation party, or the tattered children's book I thought was lost forever. But other times it's a total drag. A teenaged picture of me sat in my hands, staring back at me. She was smiling, but not very happy. Part of me wanted to rip the picture in two and let us both escape it.
After two hours, I hadn't found either of the things I was looking for. I had an urge to throw myself on the basement floor and pound my fists, but I didn't. Instead, I stuffed a garbage bag full of discarded items, put the boxes back in their stack, and carried a small armful of random finds to a new life upstairs. The one-person search party was temporarily called off.
It occurred to me later that my childhood fears about the basement were actually well-founded, if not misunderstood. The spiders are there, but they are small in number and easy to squash; the monsters are the ones I created myself out of Happy Meal toys, computer cords and old dress shoes. And the ghosts? Well, they're all quite familiar.